By RODNEY MUHUMUZA
KAMPALA, Uganda — Rights activists on Tuesday petitioned Uganda’s Constitutional Court to challenge the validity of an anti-gay measure that allows severe penalties against homosexuality.
The activists — under a group called Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law — hope the court will agree the new law violates Uganda’s constitution by encouraging discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The group has asked the judges to issue an interim order “stopping the police from implementing” the anti-gay law, said Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer who helped to draft the petition.
It also seeks an order barring local tabloid newspapers from printing the names and pictures of known or suspected homosexuals, a key concern for activists in a country where homosexuals report severe discrimination.
Opiyo said it will likely take several months, even years, before judges reach a final decision in the case challenging the anti-gay law, because the court has many other cases before it.
Uganda’s president enacted the law last month, strengthening criminal penalties against homosexuality. Some European countries and the World Bank have since withheld or delayed development assistance to Uganda. The United States has suggested it is considering similar action if the law is not repealed.
The legislation allows life imprisonment for those convicted of engaging in gay sex. It also creates the offenses of “conspiracy to commit homosexuality” and “aiding and abetting homosexuality,” both of which are punishable by seven years behind bars. Those convicted of “promoting homosexuality” face similar punishment.
Despite Western opposition to legislation widely described as draconian, the law is popular among many in this conservative East African country.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he was enacting the law in order to deter Western homosexuals from promoting homosexuality in Africa. Evangelical Christian clerics who championed the law said it was necessary to protect Ugandan children from being “recruited” by wealthy homosexuals from the West.
But Ugandan gay activists insist they are the victims of a hate campaign orchestrated by U.S. evangelicals who wanted to spread their anti-gay agenda in Africa.
Activists say there have been some allegations of violence and retaliation against people known or suspected to be gay, including evictions by many landlords of their tenants, according to the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. At least 10 suspected homosexuals have been arrested and more than five evicted by landlords since the law was passed, the group said.
Fox Odoi, a Ugandan lawyer who is one of the petitioners in the case and the only lawmaker who publicly opposed the anti-gay measure, said the legislation is harmful to the lives of Uganda’s homosexuals. “Because a person is homosexual he should go to jail and because you are heterosexual you should walk the streets: What kind of nonsense is that?” he said.